Kyle Busch, front right, takes the lead from Jimmie Johnson, who was on the pole for Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. The race started with the temperature in the high 90s.
Associated Press Enlarge
SPARTA, Ky. -- Brad Keselowski raced to his third win of the year, grabbing the lead with 55 laps remaining and holding off all challengers Saturday night in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.
The 28-year-old picked up his seventh win in his five years on the circuit. He won earlier this year at Bristol and Talladega.
Kasey Kahne rode a late surge to second place, 4.399 seconds back of Keselowski. Denny Hamlin was third, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., fourth, and Jeff Gordon fifth.
A year after severe traffic congestion resulted in thousands of angry fans, there were few glitches after the track and government officials widened ramps and roads and added 20,000 parking spaces.
"Whenever you have about 100,000 people showing up, you've always got concerns," track manager Mark Simendinger said before the race. "Trust me, I'll have concerns until the last person leaves and we turn the lights out. But I'm really pleased with the way things are going."
Thousands of fans were angered a year ago by horrible traffic congestion that resulted in many cars waiting so long to get to the track in rural Northern Kentucky that they were forced to turn around and head home before ever getting on the grounds.
The situation was so bad that most people remember the inaugural Sprint Cup race at the track for its maddening parking and access problems than for Kyle Busch's spirited victory. Local and commonwealth government and track officials responded by widening ramps and roads, increasing the police presence, and expediting the flow of fans to and from the parking areas, where room for 20,000 vehicles was added.
"Look, it is a race, there may be minor delays," Simendinger said. "But, obviously, I think everybody's understanding that the traffic snarls of last year are just not going to happen."
LOCKED UP: Hamlin will not test NASCAR's free-agent market, agreeing Saturday to a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hamlin announced the extension on Twitter. Terms of his extension were not released, but he locked up a new deal almost 15 months before his current contract with JGR was set to expire.
In a message posted just as drivers were about to be introduced Saturday night, Hamlin Tweeted, "IT'S OFFICIAL. I've signed an extension with @JoeGibbsRacing. Happy to know where my future is. Excited for tonight and beyond with my team."
PUSHED AROUND? It's not acceptable but certainly widespread: Seniors belittle freshmen, and veteran athletes put down rookies.
Danica Patrick's crew chief, Tony Eury, Jr., said recently that he felt many male drivers were trying to intimidate and push around Patrick on the track.
The matter gained momentum last week in the Nationwide race at Sonoma when Jacques Villeneuve, the 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 Formula One champ, ran into Patrick's car on the last lap. In contention for her best finish of her rookie year, she fell to 12th.
For her part, Patrick made light of the situation.
"Don't they watch the news?" she said, laughing. "Bullying is the new not-cool thing!"
Several drivers jumped to her defense.
"She is doing just fine," Tony Stewart said. "She got run over by a guy that runs two Nationwide races a year and has hit everything but the pace car religiously every race. Every time everybody gets around that guy they get wrecked, so it doesn't matter whether it's her or anybody else."
It's a matter of not backing down, Earnhardt said.
"Some guys don't respect anybody, no matter what their gender," he said. "Every [driver] has to stand up for themselves at some point and set the tone that they won't put up with it from anybody. When I first started hanging out with her and got to know her even before I raced with her, I knew she wasn't the kind of person you run around pushing buttons with. Some guys don't see it that way I guess and push her around on the race track. She will just have to settle that however she wants. There's ways to do it."
Jimmie Johnson was pushed around as a first-year NASCAR driver, but he learned to counterpunch.
"You have to take three or four lumps before you pass one out. That was my philosophy," he said. "Rookies get used up. It doesn't matter if it's our sport or baseball or football; it's just how it is. It gets better with time, and that stuff goes away."
Patrick, who was not in the field on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, has yet to break into the top 30 in three Cup races. She has just one top-10 finish in the Nationwide Series, an eighth at Fort Worth, in 15 starts.
BIRTHDAY BOY: "The King" of NASCAR, Richard Petty, turns 75 on Monday.
Aric Almirola, who was driving Petty's No. 43 Ford Fusion in the Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night, was asked about the celebration plans.
"I don't know," he said. "I think they might be secret, and I don't want to spill the beans."
As expected, Petty isn't celebrating his big day with cake and ice cream while sitting in a rocker.
The seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ and owner of 200 Cup victories, including seven at the Daytona 500, will blow out the candles in the same town where he was born, Level Cross, N.C. He'll also be working at his garage and will later spend time with his family.
Later in the week, he'll fly to Daytona Beach, Fla., where Petty and his family and friends will not only celebrate the Fourth of July but also his birthday.
A special dinner at a resort hotel will include guest speakers from Petty's life, capped by a fireworks display.
HORSEPOWER VS. HORSES: Bruton Smith, head of the Kentucky Speedway's parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc., took direct aim at the commonwealth's signature sporting event, the Kentucky Derby, prior to his track's inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup race last year.
"We will outdraw this horsey race you talk about," Smith said in 2011, adding that the car race would be larger than any Kentucky Derby.
The Derby was coming off a record attendance in 2011 and set a new mark in 2012 with more than 165,000 fans attending. Smith didn't back away from those comments Saturday, instead doubling down with a somewhat playful challenge.
"What I'd like for them to do is come forth and swear and give us a sworn statement that they had that many people," the 85-year-old Smith said. "If they do that, then we'll continue the argument."
Smith predicted a crowd "in excess of 100,000" for Saturday night.
TOUGH ROAD: Points leader Matt Kenseth's series-shaking revelation earlier this week that he is leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season may have a profound impact on how he finishes out the year.
Earnhardt and Bowyer have been down that road.
Earnhardt left the team his father founded in May, 2007, to sign with Hendrick Motorsports.
"As tough as it is and as many unknowns as there are about a move like that, more often than not things work themselves out," Earnhardt said.
"Everybody kind of ends up in a better place."
That doesn't mean it will be easy.
"It will be a little tough with the transition just emotionally because he's been in the same place for so long," Earnhardt added. "But eventually it will lead to better days, and he'll find out that things are going to work out just fine."
After spending his entire NASCAR career with Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer jumped to Michael Waltrip's team a year ago.
"For me, it was very hard to keep that momentum going," Bowyer said.
"Everybody was kind of wanting to give up on the season and get it over with."
For his part, Kenseth said every member of the team needed to pull together to concentrate on winning now, not at some point in the future.
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